BERRYVILLE — Clarke County has hired an interim, part-time economic development and tourism director until county and Berryville officials can figure out how to work together on efforts to recruit and retain businesses.

Felicia Hart, who lives in Stephenson, started work on Monday. Until earlier this year, she spent four years as director of community development and tourism in Front Royal. She lost her job as part of a reorganization within local government.

Prior to her job in Front Royal, Hart was Strasburg’s downtown coordinator for two years. She also worked in marketing and development for the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, First Bank and American Woodmark Corp., her resume shows.

County Administrator Chris Boies hired Hart after approaching her about the temporary job. He said he knew Hart from collaborating with her on regional projects.

The contract of the county’s former part-time economic development and tourism director, Len Capelli, was terminated by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors in November with 90 days notice. No reason was specified, but supervisors indicated they thought changes were needed in economic development efforts.

Capelli, a former executive with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, left his county job in February.

As residents have indicated they want Clarke County to remain mostly rural and agricultural, economic development efforts have been limited in recent years. Officials have acknowledged, however, the county must have some type of economic development effort so jobs are available to residents who don’t work on farms or commute.

A committee of county and Berryville officials that oversees matters involving the localities’ memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate on economic development efforts will meet in the near future to start developing a job description for the director’s position and determine how to fund it.

Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have prompted the county and town to postpone or cancel nonessential meetings, including ones of the MOU committee.

Hart was recruited, Boies said, because “we (the county) felt we needed to do something in the interim” to help businesses cope with economic uncertainties stemming from the pandemic.

He said Hart has been instructed to immediately focus on helping existing business, such as by letting them know about emergency loan funds available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

That can “help assure” businesses they can make it through the crisis, Hart said.

Boies added that he is impressed with Hart’s wealth of experience in working with businesses and her ability to communicate with business owners.

“I am aware of uniquenesses that each locality has regarding economic development,” Hart wrote in information about her background that she submitted with her resume.

That information shows that during her time in Front Royal and Warren County, she and her associates were able to increase revenues from tourism by almost 5%.

Tourism is considered part of economic development because it generates money for localities. For instance, visitors eat in local restaurants, shop in local stores and buy supplies such as fuel for their cars.

“I’m excited about the opportunities” to help businesses in a community where people seem intent on helping others as much as they can, Hart said.

Hart will not work under a contract. She will work 29 hours per week and be paid $30 an hour until a permanent director is hired, according to Boies.

In comparison, Capelli worked less than 100 hours per month and was paid approximately $39 per hour.

Hart said she is interested in becoming Clarke County’s economic development and tourism director on a permanent basis.

When the permanent job is advertised, “we’re still going to have an open hiring process,” Boies said. Therefore, “she would have to apply like everyone else.”

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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